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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Nuclear test veteran recalls fears
Nuclear explosion
The Grapple-Y bomb near Christmas Island on 28 April 1958
As a parliamentary inquiry hears evidence into the impact of Britain's nuclear testing programme in the South Pacific in the 1950s, one veteran of Christmas Island recalls his safety fears.

Charlie Price says preparations for a nuclear bomb test were not unlike setting out for a day at the seaside.

"We were just sat on the beach in shirts and shorts," he said of the lead up to a test near the remote Pacific island.

"We were told to sit with our legs drawn up and our arms around our heads and wait.

"After a few minutes, once the wave of heat passed, we were told we could stand up and look and see the mushroom cloud," Mr Price said of the experience.

'Guinea pigs'

Mr Price said despite losing most of his teeth and suffering other lingering stomach illnesses, he is among the lucky ones involved in the South Pacific testing.

"A lot of them aren't with us anymore - cancer," he said of the aftermath of the nuclear tests in which as many as 6,000 men at a time were told to sit on the beach and turn their backs away from the explosion.

"You could still feel the heat and see the light," he said of the two tests he experienced in 1958. "If you had been standing, the wave of heat would have likely knocked you over."

Mr Price, from Leebotwood in Shropshire, said the theory that government scientists did not know at the time of the need for greater protection ignores the realities of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan to end World War II.

"They had to have known after Hiroshima and Nagasaki what can happen if you are too close," he said. "I think we were guinea pigs for them."

Legal action

About 700 veterans of the tests from Britain, New Zealand and Fiji are currently suing the UK government for compensation.

Mr Price is not suing, but he said he supports the families involved and is convinced of the ill-effects.

"Within a year or so, I could reach into my mouth and pull out my teeth easily, they were all loose," he said of the first sign that exposure to nuclear tests over the course of a one-year posting had longer-term consequences.

But the 68-year-old said that even during his time on Christmas Island he had health worries.

"We were given treated sea water to drink and I remember thinking at the time that we shouldn't be drinking that water that they were dropping the A-bombs into," he said.

Mr Price was just 17 when he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, "to see the world", and spent nine years as an airman before going on to run his own business as a lorry driving instructor.

The Ministry of Defence says independent reports have concluded there is no evidence to back up the veterans' ill-health claims.

But the ministry says it will consider the parliamentary inquiry's report once it is submitted.


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